The recognition of their existence will jolt the material twentieth century mind out of its heavy ruts in the mud, and will make it admit that there is a glamour and mystery to life. Having discovered this, the world will not find it so difficult to accept that spiritual message supported by physical facts which has already been put before it.
Sir Conan Doyle submitted these words to The Strand over 90 years ago, a famous and well-respected author going nuts over some photographs that might’ve otherwise been immediately dismissed by even the slightest of skeptics in his time.
A year before her death, even Frances Griffiths – who as a child staged clever photographs of winged gnomes and fairies with her sister – said she couldn’t understand “why [brilliant men like Conan Doyle] were taken in – they wanted to be taken in.”
During a more innocent time in my life, I too was taken in, not by fairies but by stories of Santa, Easter Bunny, God, Satan, the Boogie Man, and Cher. I trusted adults when they told me that the clashes of thunder could either be the angels bowling or an all-out war between Heaven and Hell. I always prayed to God to have his bowling leagues scheduled on the same day as my baseball games.
Around that time in my childhood, I did a good deal of exploring the woods behind my house and looking for forest imps and holes leading to a parallel universe or otherwise imagining that the puddles in my driveway led to some kind of shadow world and that crossing through a cornfield would enable me to time travel.
As they have for me, these sort of fancies have served many needs throughout human history: religious – Eve hid her illegitimates from God so he hid them from her, thus creating the hidden people; cultural –those same creatures came back to rectify a city ban against dancing; political – to save elven habitats, Finnish citizens stalled or called into question road development and building construction; epidemic – bewildered and scared, Western Europeans dug up and stabbed or burned their recently departed as to halt vampiric attacks; geographical – rock formations and avalanches in Norway, some which took out churches, were attributed to dim-witted, Christian-hating mountain trolls.
But childhood is over, science is unmasking all the mystery, and whatever beauty is left is being overtaken by an ever-expanding gray sheet of concrete. Four lots in my neighborhood—each with its own small biome of yomogi, Robert Geranium (aka Stinky Bob), tiger lilies, mint, and purpletop vervain—have recently been paved over, two for parking spillover and the others for two new apartment buildings.
So where does one who subsisted on the fruits of imagination find inspiration and relief?
No, no. Movies. While Marvel and DC Comics have crapped out some particularly heinous loads like Spider Man and Watchmen, mysterious superheroes and villains with newfound powers and a sense of purpose never seem to fail to attract quite a crowd along with the box office millions. Then there are Miyazaki’s animated films, which highlight nature’s fragile beauty and its mysteriousness as well as its power; the latter quality of nature is especially exploited in two favorite reads of mine, Brian Aldiss’s Hothouse and John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids.
Travelling has also not been altogether disappointing, although one tends not to experience any real trolls in the mountains of Norway, angry dead sailor ghosts in Japan, ravenous child-munching old women in Hungary, or secret sub-pyramid catacombs in Egypt.
Even then, I’m glad I was taken in from an early age. The wonderment may have faded a bit, and not every venture seems as promising and bright as the aforementioned tales of dork-walks-into-woods-pretends-he’s-in-Lord-of-the-Rings, but every once in a while, there’s a little bit of spark to be found in music, an adventure gone wrong to be told as a humorous story later, and a really beautiful shared moment impossible to be captured by an iPhone.
But I really do wish we had just one dragon.